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The woman who seeks to look a few years older than she actually is through her understated attire and whom we have agreed to call Miss C smiles discreetly while holding in her right hand the gray binder containing the reports requested by the CFO (who is in turn responding to the executive vice president of the accounting department’s request), reports which show the revenue volume for the second quarter of the previous year, 1983, which have been requested for comparison with the reports for the same period of the current year.

Dressed in a simple salmon-colored cotton (80%) and viscose (20%) dress with long sleeves, cut below the knee and cinched at the waist with a light brown leather belt, she tries to forget about how her heels hurt her feet despite being protected by 25 denier Spandex tights that give her legs an elegant but almost imperceptible tanned effect. The woman in understated attire whom we have agreed to call Miss C thinks for a moment about how fortunate she should feel to have been chosen today as employee of the month at one of the most prestigious multinationals, located in an important building listed as part of the historic heritage of the city center. Being able to undertake her work in such an ideal setting is the next best thing to fulfilling the dream millions of people have every day: working in an office that takes into account evolution in work methodologies in an environment equipped with the latest technology and adapted to user needs down to the smallest detail, in a functional and comfortable place that can increase both the productivity of the multinational itself and workers’ satisfaction in inhabiting it.

The young secretary in understated attire whom we have agreed to call Miss C thinks about her fortune in having been chosen employee of the month. Taking into account the position of her head and the direction of her gaze, we can deduce that the sales coordinator whom we will call Mr. X is within her field of vision, dressed in a gray 100% cotton suit, one of his usual white Egyptian cotton shirts with gold cufflinks on the cuffs, an opaque 100% silk tie which is also gray, modal socks and white 100% cotton underwear, sitting at a desk a few feet away from Miss C, reviewing some data relating to the second quarter of the year in his planner as he makes a small and unconscious (but constant) movement forwards and backwards thanks to the wheels on the office chair.

The desk the sales coordinator is sitting in front of is connected to two other desks of different sizes and configurations, joined around a central triangular hub and forming 120º angles between them. This group of desks is attached at one end to one of the dividing panels in such a way that it becomes not just an element of furniture but a sort of organic prolongation of the modular panels covered in 100% modified polyester fabric, Grade 1 non-flammable, gray-brown in color, that work as walls—a seemingly casual distribution of furniture that actually favors quasi-imperceptible supervision and hierarchization techniques. Distributed across the surface of this work space are an Arteluce halogen lamp model Mantis A420 that illuminates the space giving warmth to the environment, two telephones allowing both outside and internal communication between the different office departments, a black Olivetti electric typewriter model ET 201 mainly used by Miss C to type daily reports and an Olivetti printing calculator model Logos 182 PD frequently used by the CFO. Although this group of desks, located in a prime and central spot on the floor, might seem like an essential part of the office, it is actually but a tiny part of the whole, an infinitesimal percentage of a complex system of desks, adaptable dividing panels, tables and storage units distributed across five floors, eight areas and over 1,500 m2 where over a hundred people who do not know the names of most of their colleagues work.

Boasting a cutting-edge design, this modular system with easily accessed horizontal and vertical raceways strategically hides all of the electrical, telephone and data transmission cabling used by the most modern offices, those which have done away with more classic work processes opting for new working methodologies that shape a much more dynamic, organic and functional setting. The similarity between the office cabling and the circulatory systems of those who inhabit the office is thus accentuated: a method as invisible as it is effective that allows for optimal distribution of current, data, signals, blood, oxygen, hormones and other types of substances.

The automation of much of the work allows the woman in understated attire whom we have agreed to call Miss C to be more efficient and productive during the workday. As a white collar worker who spends several hours a day sitting in front of an Olivetti M20 computer offering her time to a prestigious multinational company, she knows that manual labor is progressively losing ground. Initially built to handle scientific and engineering problems, computers have become known as electronic data processing systems, invaluable servants to businessmen and scientists alike in a world of numbers. In the office, the laboratory, the factory, these data processing systems are accomplishing prodigious feats by untangling and simplifying an avalanche of calculations and paper work. There is more time for creative work. Clerical personnel are freed from monotonous tasks. The businessman has timely reports of increased accuracy, often information which would have required hundreds of man-years to compile manually. In this way society optimistically aids the birth of a new era in which liberal and creative professions take on greater prominence every day.

The woman in understated attire whom we have agreed to call Miss C has not realized that the binder she is holding in her hands is not the correct binder. It is the sixth binder on the shelf in front of her standing approximately a meter and a half from the floor, a light blue shelf with metal brackets where seven binders are carefully and probably but not necessarily arranged in chronological order—a shelf affixed to one of the modular panels eight inches thick and one hundred seventy-five meters tall covered in 100% modified polyester fabric, Grade 1 non-flammable, gray-brown in color, that are used to distribute and shape this work space in the offices of a prestigious multinational whose employees feel extremely fortunate simply because they work there, offices with gray carpeted floors furnished with harmonious and functional elements whose main job is to optimize the different working areas so that employees can be as productive as they are happy and unwittingly smile during the eight hours their workday officially but not necessarily lasts.

While the young secretary in understated attire whom we have agreed to call Miss C remains standing in front of the shelf holding the wrong binder, two floors down in exactly the same spot is a previous employee of the month—the employee who was employee of the month thirty days ago to be exact. She is a woman three months, two weeks and five days younger than the current employee of the month, and unlike her she is wearing a somewhat more formal outfit consisting of a white blouse with lace, a black below-the-knee skirt, 20 denier silk pantyhose and short black heels. This woman, whom we have agreed to call Miss R, applies the knowledge of administration and accounting she acquired at a private university and meticulously reviews reports related to the business expansion plan while wearing a smile with something phony about it (although it retains a hint of sincerity), owing mainly to the fact that she no longer has her employee-of-the-month privileges. Despite being separated by two floors both she and Miss C are standing up at the moment, but due to the nature of their work they must spend several hours sitting during their workday. If it occurred to Miss C to count the different models of chairs found throughout the 1,500 m2 of office space, she would know that there are over twenty different models and would perhaps come to the conclusion that this wide range of chairs (model Edys, an acronym for Ergo DYnamic Sitting, whose quality has been certified by Catas laboratories, verifying their compliance with current regulations) responds not only to ergonomic and comfort needs but also to matters of status, hierarchy and social position. The fact that she herself occupies a different model of chair at her workstation than that used by the CFO and the executive vice president of the accounting department is thus not at all a chance occurrence.

As if occupying the compositional center of a Renaissance painting, the young secretary in understated attire whom we have agreed to call Miss C stands still for a moment staring into space and thinking about several things at once: about the work she’s doing, about the relationships she has (or doesn’t have) with the other employees, about the promising future of the prestigious multinational where she works. What she does not think about, however, is the fact that each and every one of the elements distributed throughout the space seems carefully placed to shape a set, a backdrop, stage machinery that will determine both her actions and those of other employees with the precision of a Swiss watch. Even the different plants placed throughout the facilities in a number of plant holders from the Olivetti Synthesis series 45 made of brown ABS thermoplastic resin seem to have a determining function. Howea Forsteriana, Nephrolepis Exaltata, Chamadorea Elegans, Hatiora Gaertneri, Caladium Candidum and Aphelandra Squarrossa; the offices of a prestigious multinational company are the perfect ecosystem for the imitations in plastic and fabric of endemic species from places like Lord Howe Island, Mexico, Malaysia, tropical America and Brazil to perform their decorative function. This function is also performed by ornamental elements decorating some of the modular panels such as the TypeFace Design poster by Perry A. King and Santiago Miralda from 1976, a work by Fernando Mazza (also from 1976) and a lithograph by Lucio Del Pezzo called Icarus (which is actually a slight variation of an earlier work by the same artist), a name it shares with the partition and furniture system used in the over 1,500 m2 of offices spread over five floors. It is a sophisticated line of partitions and furniture designed by Ettore Sottsass and Michele De Lucchi made mainly of sheet steel and laminated wood panels that makes possible over 28,000 different combinations of the elements that make it up: desks, adaptable dividing panels, tables, storage units and other office elements.

The woman in understated attire whom we have agreed to call Miss C (like all of the elements and employees described including Mr. X, Miss R and the other office workers) could be one of the fundamental components of an indefinite equation in which the constants, unknowns and also the possible solutions remain unidentified—sensing, however, that there are a series of underlying tensions that give the links established between these components a certain interest that is not free from morbid fascination. Miss C together with the other employees thus become potential containers for countless stories suggesting the innate capacity of the human being to occasionally achieve the greatest accomplishments and often wallow in the most absolute miseries.

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